Turtle Conservation Efforts on the World Map
The disturbing sight of a dead olive ridley turtle led Supraja Dharini of the Chennai-based TREE Foundation to launch a campaign in southern India to save the turtles. Impressed by her campaign, the US-based international multidisciplinary professional society Explorers Club named Dharini one of its “50 people changing the world” with little recognition. Speaking to SHASHWAT GUPTA RAY, the President of the TREE Foundation explains the challenges of olive ridley conservation and what coastal states like Goa should do to overcome these challenges.
As a commercial artist by profession, the career of Supraja Dharini of the Chennai-based TREE Foundation took an unexpected turn one morning in December 2001. While on a morning stroll along her local beach, she came across the body of a Dead Sea creature. When a local fisherman was asked what the creature was and he learned it was an Olive Ridley sea turtle, it sparked an urge to do something to save these turtles.
After a ten-year campaign, the prestigious Explorers Club in the United States named her one of its “50 People Changing the World” for undertaking one of the largest sea turtle conservation programs in India.
So what does this mean for her personally and her campaign to save Olive?
“I was both surprised and delighted to be chosen for this prestigious award. The award is given in recognition of individuals who have made a significant positive contribution to their communities, whether human, natural or a combination of both. The award also acknowledges the fact that many winners have not received sufficient recognition for their work in their chosen field,” Dharini said.
For her, the prize “symbolizes hope”. The publicity surrounding the award and the recognition of the work of the NGO she founded, the TREE Foundation, puts endangered sea turtles at the forefront of
For her, this is a positive development and somewhat of a victory for the turtles. The more people are aware of a problem, in this case the plight of sea turtles, the better placed they are to help improve the situation.
“Receiving this prestigious award puts our country firmly on the conservation map and shows the world that we strive to protect our marine heritage and wildlife. To be the first woman in South India is truly an honor. It is great news not just for us but for sea turtle conservation in India,” she said.
According to her, much of what has been achieved could not have been achieved without the support received from the Forest Departments of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Odisha, the Indian Coast Guard and the Police. maritime.
“Our program is a community-based sea turtle conservation program, and this work would also not be possible without the dedication and hard work of the 363 members of the Sea Turtle Protection Force and the involvement of the 222 fishing village communities. along the east coast of India since 2002,” she said.
When asked about her transformation from running an art establishment called Kalakruti in Chennai to conserving sea turtles, she said that as a commercial artist by profession, her career had taken an unexpected turn one morning in December 2001.
“While walking in the morning along my local beach, I came across the body of a dead sea creature. I asked a local fisherman what the creature was and learned that he it was an Olive Ridley sea turtle I was told these turtles live in the ocean but female turtles return to lay their nests along the beaches of the east coast
from India “,
The disturbing sight of the dead tortoise reminded him of the words of the famous English primatologist and anthropologist, Dr Jane Goodall DBE, from a National Geographic documentary, in which Dr Goodall said “every individual can make a difference “.
“I went home and sought to find out more about these creatures so that I could learn more about my experience on the beach that morning. I learned about the different species of sea turtles around the world, their lives and how, due to human activity, many sea turtle populations around the world had suffered severe population declines and were even at risk of extinction in some cases,” she said.
“I have a naturally creative spirit, a certain requirement as an artist! I could see that if nothing was done to protect the turtles, in the not too distant future they would become a very rare sight along the eastern seaboard and eventually disappear completely,” Dharini said.
With so much to learn about conservation and with experience in a completely different field, “I took the bull by the horns so to speak and set about founding an organization that would be dedicated to protecting these turtles. marines,” the conservationist said.
Realizing the importance of education and community involvement for successful conservation, she decided to call the organization Trust for Education and Environment, or as it became known, the TREE Foundation, because that name, according to she best represented the ethos of what she and the organization wanted. reach.
Talking about the prevailing obstacles in the way of protecting turtles and how to overcome them, she said that getting communities and different government departments to work together has been and sometimes can even be a difficult task.
“Furthermore, as the stakeholders who interact the most with sea turtles, it was essential to involve artisanal and trawl fishers in our conservation efforts. There was a very real risk that fishers would see our conservation efforts as a threat to their livelihoods, so we had to tailor education programs specifically aimed at this group,” Dharini said.
Asked about her perspective on the situation in Goa regarding the conservation of olive ridley turtles, “The work of the TREE Foundation is concentrated along the east coast. However, the threats to sea turtles remain pretty much the same regardless of their location. These threats include pollution, poaching, loss of nesting habitat, bycatch in fisheries, ingestion of plastic, entanglement in ghost nets, and a host of other threats.
“The nesting season in Goa is somewhat different from what we experience as there are usually a lot more tourists present in Goa while many of the beaches we protect have very low tourist numbers. We are aware that conservation efforts are underway at Morjim and Mandrem in North Goa, as well as Agonda and Galgibagh in South Goa. However, we have not worked directly with any conservation organizations in the area as we focus on the east coast,” Dharini said.
But in general, tourists are poorly informed and some are totally unaware of sea turtles and the challenges they face. It is therefore an opportunity to raise public awareness of the plight of sea turtles, mainly aimed at tourists, in particular on the four main nesting beaches in the region.
“A lot of people just don’t understand how everything is connected. If people understood that the ocean is where all three basic needs come from – air, water and food, then they would sit up and pay attention. The ocean gives us 70% of the air we breathe, indirectly a large part of the water we drink, and is the main source of food for more than a billion people. People aren’t indifferent, they just aren’t aware,” she said.
“As a very important part of Goa’s economy, tourism can be a springboard for further conservation efforts. Tourists come first to discover a place and a culture, so they are open to new experiences,” said the founder of the TREE Foundation.
Involving them in conservation as part of their vacation experience is a great opportunity for local conservation organizations to raise awareness and generate income at the same time, she added.
The Goa Coastal Zone Management Authority (GCZMA) has drawn up a management plan for the state’s four olive ridley nesting sites, recommending the demarcation of ‘no go zones’ on these beaches to help preserve them under their current ecological conditions. Will this help?
“In a word, yes. I see this as a positive development. Conservation is a delicate balancing act, it often requires strict boundaries to be successful, but it also needs the support of the wider community,” she said.
General draconian measures, for example closing a nesting beach completely to the public in order to protect the turtles, do not work. Such measures lose public support for conservation efforts and often do more harm than good in the long run.
“The approach taken by GCZMA in its decision is based on sound thinking and gives reasonable consideration to all stakeholders and I personally fully support this decision,” she said.
“With all stakeholders engaged in the conservation effort, I believe turtles will continue to come and nest on the beaches of Goa. There is an endless list of things that can be done to help protect sea turtles, but the cornerstones of any effort are cooperation and long-term thinking.
“As long as these cornerstones are
respected, conservation efforts will naturally evolve according to the
requirements,” the conservationist said.